Why Stories Favor The Last Man Standing


Part of the writer’s responsibility is to know how he’s portraying the world. This is complicated by the fact that there are a few things common to the storytelling that are ultimately going to result in an inaccurate version of the world when you look at the composite of all the fiction that is consumed. One of these things is what I call “The Last Man Standing” bias.

Basically, a story is more likely to be about a survivor than about someone who dies. If it’s about someone who dies, it’s still about the last man standing, rather than the first to die.

There are a few reasons for this. Survivors are going to have more experiences. Unless a story takes a supernatural turn, if the frame of the story is someone reliving their experiences, that requires the protagonist to stay alive, even if everyone else is unable to do so.

For example, my grandfather was forced to spend a few years in a labor camp in Siberia. His odds of survival were low, and when I adapt his story, it will be susceptible to the survivor bias. As a writer, I’ll have to figure out how to convey the fact that his story was exceptional, when it’s not that unusual in the context.

I don’t know if there’s a solution for this. But it could result in a warped view of the world with people holding themselves to impossible high standards, neglecting to realize that in a truly dangerous situation, they’re more likely to be the expendable supporting characters.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Criticism, Eesti, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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